Foodways – Mexican

The informant learned the following Mexican foodways from her father’s great-aunt, who was Mexican.

She and her twin sister would make stovetop buttered tortillas and the family would make flatbreads and have tamales at Christmas: “There were little things that we would do when we were younger, um, like take a tortilla, put it on the oven [stove], uh, which had an open flame as opposed to most now that are just electric and just warm it up on there and put butter on it and eat it, uh, which I don’t see anyone do these days, but I remember definitely growing up doing little things like that. Making flatbreads, um . . . lots of peasant food, I guess you would call it for, you know, growing up in a big family in Southern California with slightly, slightly, um, slightly ethnic spin on things . . . I mean, my dad’s side of the family definitely, um, Mexican, Spanish, uh, foods that I would—they would make, like, um, tamales and stuff around Christmas time.”

The buttered tortillas were an anytime snack, but baking flatbread was special and tamales were a Christmas treat.

The informant describes the making of the tamales as “way complicated and a little boring . . . but they were good.”

The informant and her sister, as children of a cross-cultural marriage, inhabited a liminal space so far as traditional foodways went. The tortillas, clearly, have roots in the Hispanic tradition, but putting butter on them seems like a purely American way to eat bread. The informant seems to have rejected her ethnic childhood diet, as she calls it “peasant food,” which has a negative connotation. Alice Guadalupe Tapp, another Southern California resident with Mexican ancestry, writes about the tradition of having tamales at Christmas in her cookbook Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales, mentioning that her family sometimes made more than 600 tamales for the winter holidays (9).


Guadalupe Tapp, Alice. Tamales 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Traditional Tamales. New York: Ten Speed, 2002.